I’m delighted to be interviewing poet, novelist and short story writer Tim Jones about his latest collection of poetry, Men Briefly Explained, as part of his virtual book tour.   (And no, that’s not Tim pictured on the cover, but there is a photo of him at the bottom of this post.)  It’s a very enjoyable book, which I’ve already read twice and intend to read again.

Tim’s previous publications include poetry collections Boat People and All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens, short story collections Transported and Extreme Weather Events, and a novel, Anarya’s Secret.  He is also co-editor of Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, which won  “Best Collected Work” in the 2010 Sir Julius Vogel Awards, the same year he was awarded the NZSA Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature.

First of all, Tim, how did your recent “real-world” book tour go?  Any particular highlights?

The highlight of the whole tour was meeting up with friends – both people I already knew in person and enjoyed catching up with again, and people, especially poets, I knew only from the Internet before this.Of all the launch events, I think the Friday night event at the Rona Gallery in Eastbourne, which is part of Lower Hutt in local body terms but feels to me a lot like the seaside suburbs of Wellington, was my favourite. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable (plus there are two Tuesday Poets within their ranks!), the venue is great: you walk into an excellent bookshop and, at a certain point, it morphs into an excellent gallery – what’s not to like? There was a good crowd who laughed at all my jokes (which is, of course, the true measure of success!), books were bought and nibbles nibbled – it was a really good time.But another highlight (and it is so strange for me, an avowed South Islander, to be selecting only North Island highlights) was to read poetry for the first time in Auckland. I wasn’t at my best by by that stage, as I had picked up a cold, I was tired, and the rain was bucketing down, but I have always been nervous about reading in Auckland, and it felt good to break through that particular barrier. It was good of PoetryLive to let Keith Westwater, Dr David Reiterand I be part of their regular weekly readings series.

How does this latest book fit into your body of work to date?  Is it a departure from or a continuation of themes from your previous collections?

There have been poems about men, masculinity and growing up male in each of my two previous collections, Boat People and All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens. The difference this time is that, having initially put together a number of such poems as a chapbook (which I was going to called “Guy Thing” – I’m glad I changed the title!), I then decided to go on and write more poems around these themes, rather than (as in my previous collections) having a collection with several sections, each devoted to a theme or style of poem.

The other difference is that my two previous collections each had a section of science fiction and speculative poetry, whereas this one doesn’t – I guess only “As you know, Bob” and “In A World Without Pity, A Town Without Fear” would qualify as speculative poetry. I’ve just joined the Science Fiction Poetry Association, and even guest-edited an issue of their online magazine Eye To The Telescope this year, so I think this is a temporary aberration – perhaps not much science fiction is needed to explain men!

I gather that these poems were written over a five-year period. Did your approach to writing poems about men change as you went along?

As noted above, having initially discovered that I was writing a number of poems about men and planning to bring them together in a chapbook, I then decided to go for a collection. I don’t usually write with a theme in mind before I start – I usually write first, and look for themes later – so this took a bit of adjustment. Once I got underway on these poems, especially the ones about older men near the end of the book, though, I found that they came quite quickly and relatively easily.

I think I might try writing more themed collections in future – in fact, I have a couple of possible themes in mind for future poetry collections, plus another chapbook idea. I like chapbooks a lot – I am determined to put one together at some point.

You write award-winning fiction as well as poetry.  Do you work on your various projects concurrently or sequentially?

I find that I can’t work on a novel and short fiction at the same time, but I have at times been able to work on fiction and poetry at the same time – well, say, a morning on one and an afternoon on the other. I’m concentrating on short fiction at the moment – I went through a nervous time when there seemed to be a blockage between the short story ideas I had squirrelled away and my ability to turn them into stories, but I feel (I hope) as though the knack is beginning to return.

I have many favourites in this book: poems about love, like happened to meet and Honey Moon; Return to Nussbaum Reigel; and the very entertaining Men Briefly Explained:

 “My friend and I are talking at
the most attractive woman in the room.

We’re talking big: theories, hypotheses,
each wilder than the rest.

How huge our brains must be!”

What’s your own personal favourite?

That’s a tough question, because it’s like being asked to choose between one’s children. Then again, I only have one child, so [puts names of poems on folded slips of paper in hat, swirls slips of paper around, without looking, pulls out a slip] … my favourite poem is “Thinning”! It’s kind of gloomy and I stopped reading it at readings because it was depressing everyone too much, but I’m particularly pleased with that one. My favourite poem to read out loud is “Men Briefly Explained” itself – I’ve noticed that it’s mainly women who appreciate that one.

What’s next on the writing agenda?

Another collection of short stories, and again, I have a theme in mind as I write them. Right now, I have a couple of published but uncollected stories that fit with the theme, a couple more completed but unpublished stories, and a whole bunch of first drafts, bits of stories, and story ideas – which sometimes consist of no more than a title! So there is a lot to do yet, but I’m enjoying the process.

Links to more interviews on Tim’s virtual book tour here.

How To Buy A Copy Of Men Briefly Explained (a perfect Christmas gift for a poetry fan near you!)

Men Briefly Explained is published by Interactive Press (IP) of Brisbane. You can find out more about Men Briefly Explained, and buy it direct from the publisher, on IP’s mini-site for the book: http://www.ipoz.biz/Titles/MBE.htm

On Tim’s Men Briefly Explained page, there are more options for buying the book in person and online, plus latest reader reactions and reviews: http://timjonesbooks.blogspot.com/p/men-briefly-explained.html